Do you know your ancestor’s occupation? Have you ever used that occupation as a means of learning more about him (or her)?
I am guilty of overlooking information that a person’s occupation can tell me. You, too?
Let’s look at this example.
The subject of my research is Connie M. Howard, my 103 year old great grandfather. I recently wrote about him here (and here). I have known for years Connie was a crane operator and worked on construction projects in Raleigh, NC during the 1920’s and 1930’s. [This information came from conversations with my great grandfather.]
Specifically, Connie Howard worked on the NCSU Bell Tower and Meredith College’s Johnson Hall.
Did these institutions have photographs of their construction in the 1930’s? Could I possibly learn more about Connie Howard in their records?
I first contacted Meredith College (an all female institution) and inquired if they had photographs of the construction of Johnson Hall and any information on the construction company. Information on the construction of the college is contained in the Board of Trustees’ records and mostly pertains to the general construction of the campus. Johnson Hall was completed in 1926. This fits with the oral history and the timeline of the Howard family. Connie married Mattie Maddox in 1914 and had four children. The Howards resided in Broadway, Lee County, NC. His children reported he was usually “away” during the week doing construction.
In the mid-1930’s Connie Howard continued his construction work in Raleigh, NC. Connie Howard was the crane operator for the completion of the North Carolina State University Bell Tower. Connie can be found in the Raleigh City Directories for 1935-1937. He lived at 614 W. Hargett Street and his occupation was listed as “hoisting engineer”.
The Memorial Tower (or Bell Tower as it is referred to today) was begun in 1921. Construction of the tower was halted during the depression and completed as a WPA project from 1935-1937.
This photograph of the incomplete Bell Tower is found in the Special Collections Research Center at NCSU Libraries.
A video on the NC State YouTube channel shows the history of the Bell Tower. At the 25 second mark, video of the crane hoisting a granite block into place is seen. Was this Connie at work? Very possibly. Regardless, I gained a better sense of the type of work he performed.
Look closely at your ancestor’s occupation.
What did you learn? Were able to place your ancestor in a place and time due to his occupation? Did you gain a better perspective on his or her life? Did you discover an unusual occupation?
Share what you found in the comments below.